Louise Hay, a self-help guru and AIDS advocate whose book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” preached the power of love and affirmation, sold tens of millions of copies and made her a leading voice of the New Age movement in the 1980s, died — or “transitioned” — on Wednesday at her home in San Diego. She was 90.
Hay House, the publishing company she founded in 1987, confirmed her death but did not disclose the cause.
Described in a 2008 New York Times profile as “the queen of the New Age,” Hay was a child-abuse victim who had dropped out of high school, given a baby up for adoption, worked as a model and divorced an international-trade expert by the time she discovered “the power of positive thinking” in her 40s.
She read the works of Norman Vincent Peale and early 20th-century mystics, attended the Church of Religious Science in Manhattan and studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the onetime guru to the Beatles, at his “Vedic city” in Iowa.
Eventually, she developed a belief system based on the idea that medical maladies are inextricably linked with negative thoughts. Alzheimer’s disease, she wrote in her “little blue book,” the 1976 pamphlet “Heal Your Body,” was caused by “a desire to leave the planet.” Leprosy, she said, was related to an “inability to handle life at all.”
Wellness — relief from disease, depression, anxiety and stress — was merely a matter of positive thinking, honed by reciting mantras such as “I approve of myself” several hundred times each day.
It was a lesson that, Hay said, came from personal experience.
Diagnosed with cervical cancer in the late 1970s, she chose to go against the advice of doctors and begin what her website described as “an intensive program of affirmations, visualization, nutritional cleansing and psychotherapy,” focusing especially on childhood memories of sexual abuse.
“I . . . had to love myself a great deal more than I did, and I had to clear the patterns of resentment that I had held from when I had been a battered and sexually abused child,” she said in one audiobook, “Cancer: Discovering Your Healing Power.” “It was imperative for me to let go of the blame.”
Within six months, she said, the cancer was gone.
Hay’s account of the disease was central to the rise of her Carlsbad, California-based publishing empire, which offers self-affirming coloring books, can-do desk calendars, inspirational card decks, meditative audio recordings and mobile apps.
A website for Hay offers daily “affirmations” (“in the infinity of life where I am, all is perfect, whole and complete”), and her company organizes conferences and seminars featuring self-described psychics, clairvoyants, “angel therapists” and holistic healers. A streaming radio station was launched in 2005.
Hay House grossed $100 million in 2007, the Times reported, and Hay’s second book — “You Can Heal Your Life” (1984) — has remained a strong performer in print, selling more than 50 million copies around the world, according to its publisher.
The book was given a boost when Hay appeared on daytime talk shows with Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey in 1988, discussing her advocacy for people with AIDS.
She had been a relatively unknown spiritual counselor in Southern California when, in 1985, she began holding small gatherings in her living room for gay men with the disease. The support group, known as the Hayride, soon ballooned to a Wednesday night gathering of more than 800 people, filling an auditorium in West Hollywood.
Held at a time when AIDS was widely stigmatized, the meetings were “often the only time a person with AIDS might be touched, hugged or massaged with care, not rough disdain,” the Los Angeles Blade wrote in an obituary of Hay.
Hay reportedly presided over the funerals of some AIDS patients — “Who else was going to do it?” she said — but drew the ire of doctors and some members of the gay community for giving the impression that the disease could be cured, and cured with love.
“Love is the most powerful stimulant to the immune system,” she said at one gathering in 1988, the Los Angeles Times reported. “What we’re doing here is practicing love, unconditional love.”
She was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 8, 1926, and for decades kept her birth name closely guarded. But she acknowledged that her last name was Lunney — “the kids used to call me ‘lunatic,’ ” she wrote in one book — and said that she was beaten by her stepfather and raped by a neighbor when she was about 5.
She dropped out of high school at 15 and became pregnant, giving her infant daughter up for adoption on the day she turned 16. Louise Hay was a name she took after moving to New York in 1950, where she became a model for Bill Blass, Pauline Trigère and Oleg Cassini and married Andrew Hay, an Englishman, in 1954.
Hay reportedly left her for another woman 14 years later, leading Ms. Hay to begin visiting the First Church of Religious Science, a metaphysical institution led by Raymond Charles Barker. She returned to California in 1980, and, according to Hay House, left no immediate survivors.
Hay founded a charity organization, the Hay Foundation, in 1986, and appeared in a 2007 movie adaptation of “You Can Heal Your Life.” For many years, she traveled the country delivering lectures, finishing them by spending hours behind a lectern, standing on her feet while signing books for her fans. She always stood, she told The New York Times, “because they all want to hug me.”